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This story first appeared in the March 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
Hollywood celebrated in 2015 with record financial results thanks to dinosaurs and Stormtroopers, which helped push domestic box office to a record $11 billion. Four of the six major studios posted profits exceeding $1 billion for the calendar year, based on newly released numbers, though only three managed to grow their bottom lines. Total film-unit profits for the majors came in at $6.5 billion, up 11 percent from $5.87 billion in 2014 and the highest total since THR began its annual analysis in 2009. “Higher film-rental rates and growing demand for electronic sell-through played a role” in 2015’s profitability for film units, in addition to box office, says Drexel Hamilton analyst Tony Wible. “[Exhibitors] are paying more for the franchise films.”
The market has been punishing media companies since August, when Disney CEO Bob Iger noted soft ESPN numbers. But studio financials haven’t yet suffered in total. Conglomerates also benefited from subscription VOD sales to outletslike Netflix as well as TV production, which is wrapped into film segments at some companies.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens, only the third film to surpass $2 billion in global box-office receipts, helped Disney top THR‘s profitability ranking for a second straight year. The studio turned in an impressive 45 percent profit growth for calendar 2015 thanks to such titles as Inside Out and Avengers: Age of Ultron. Merchandise related to Frozen flew off shelves, also boosting licensing revenue to the film studio.
The former champ has lost the top spot to Disney two consecutive years. Despite several flops including Pan, Jupiter Ascending and The Man From U.N.C.L.E., the Warner Bros. studio made its best showing since THR began its profitability report. Among its industry-leading 24 releases, the top grosser was New Line’s San Andreas, the 14th-biggest release of 2015 with $473.5 million worldwide (outpacing the $374.7 million for Mad Max: Fury Road). TV picked up the slack with global hits The Big Bang Theory and Flash.
Filmed-entertainment profit exceeded $1 billion for the first time thanks to three billion-dollar babies: Jurassic World, Furious 7 and Minions. Universal also scored an industry box-office record internationally ($4.4 billion) thanks to studio chair Donna Langley’s diverse slate of 21 films that clicked with various demographics, including Fifty Shades of Grey and Straight Outta Compton. (Television is not included in NBCU’s filmed entertainment unit.)
21ST CENTURY FOX
The studio posted its lowest calendar-year profit since THR began its report and dropped from second place in 2014 to fourth this time. Still, profit stayed above $1 billion. Fox’s biggest film hit was The Martian, which had a worldwide take of $596.3 million in 2015. On the TV side, 20th TV’s Sons of Anarchy ended, and there was no new season of 24. One bright spot: Empire proved a cash cow.
Spectre, the latest 007 movie, was the studio’s highest grosser of 2015 with $865 million worldwide, though its ultimate haul is limited by partners MGM and the Broccoli family. Hotel Transylvania 2 was a distant No. 2 with $463 million. Sony’s sharp film downturn contributed to the ouster of studio co-chair Amy Pascal and came despite a robust TV business that includes The Goldbergs, The Blacklist and Better Call Saul.
This likely will be Paramount’s last year as a 100 percent-owned asset of Viacom as CEO Philippe Dauman said Feb. 23 that the conglomerate is seeking a minority investor for the studio. Paramount posted its lowest calendar-year operating profit since THR began its report and the second-lowest for any studio during that span. Film profit for the fiscal year ended Sept. 30 came in at $111 million, down 46 percent — but for the calendar year, it dropped 89 percent to $25 million. Among the majors, Paramount’s domestic box office placed last with $675 million. Of its 12 titles, the studio’s highest grosser was Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation ($682.3 million worldwide), co-financed by the Chinese giant Alibaba.
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